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Using Postcards to Illustrate your Family History

Vintage postcards of events, holidays, and places can provide a unique look at the history of your family and the places they have lived.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Gena Philibert-Ortega
Word Count: 708 (approx.)
Labels: Social Aspect 
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Deltiology, is the official name for the hobby of postcard collecting. This popular hobby may also help the genealogist in making their family history narrative more interesting to the non-genealogists in the family. Vintage postcards of events, holidays, and places can provide a unique look at the history of your family and the places they have lived.

Postcards evolved over time and differed according to what time period they were printed in. Two types of postcards might hold the most interest to genealogists. Mass produced postcards, which depict places and events, that many of us are familiar with and that are still sold to tourists and real photo postcards that were available to the everyday person from between 1902-1910. Kodak's Brownie camera allowed anyone to take a picture and then to have the picture developed as a print or a postcard. While the mass-produced type of postcard will help your family get a sense for your ancestral city in earlier times, the real photo postcard might provide an image of family members or the family home. To better understand the history of American postcards, consult the postcard timeline posted by the Bostonian Society's web site at http://www.bostonhistory.org/postcardexhib2.php#timeline or consult The History of Postcards at http://www.emotionscards.com/museum/historyofpostcards.htm. For a history of real photo postcards consult This Old House Journal at http://www.oldhousejournal.com/magazine/2000/julaug/realphoto/index.shtml. Information about dating real photo postcards is located at http://www.the2buds.com/rp.htm.

Places to find vintage postcards include antique stores, stamp and postcard shows, and flea markets. Online vendors and auction houses like ebay or Yahoo also have for sale an assortment of postcards. On ebay and other auction sites, try conducting a search for the city and state that you are interested in or simply the word "postcard." This will not only give you an idea of what postcards might be for sale but should lead you to sellers who also have online stores that include postcards for sale. Specialized auction web sites and online stores for collectables, postage stamps and postcards also exist. For example, postage stamp seller, R. E. Lippert's, http://www.relippert.com/, auctions include postcards as well as stamps and first day covers. Local specialized "collecting" stores that sell coins or stamps may also sell vintage postcards. The online seller The-Antique-Shop.com, http://the-antique-shop.com/postcards.htm, offers real photo postcards for sale. Categories for postcards include: actors and models, aviation, cowboys, disasters, events, logging, military history, musicians, sports, street scenes, and transportation.

The following are some online exhibits of postcards that might help your illustrate your family history. This list is in no way complete but is just a taste of what is available online.

One site that might help augment your Jewish family history is the National Museum of American Jewish History's Synagogue Postcard exhibit at http://www.nmajh.org/exhibitions/postcards/cards/index.htm. This exhibit features 61 synagogues from 30 states. Details about each postcard include its location, information about the building, whether it still exists or not, and when the postcard was printed.

An exhibit of Lake Tahoe, Nevada postcards can be found at http://www.tahoecountry.com/macrae/cardindex.html. This could be fun to use whether your family was from this area or, more likely, liked to vacation there.

The University of North Carolina's online exhibit, Variety Vacationland: Postcards from the North Carolina Division of State Advertising, http://www.lib.unc.edu/ncc/vacationland/index.html , features 29 black and white postcards from 1939 that were used by the state to promote tourism. While some of the postcards are scenic pictures that promote North Carolina's beauty, some feature historic activities like picking cotton and the last home used as the Confederacy headquarters.

The Cleveland Heights Historical Society has a small exhibit of 30 local vintage postcards online at http://www.chhistory.org/PostcardExhibit.php.

Rarely Seen Richmond, http://dig.library.vcu.edu/cdm4/index_postcard.php?CISOROOT=/postcard, is a digital collection of over 600 postcards of Richmond, Virginia.

Arcadia Publishing's, Arcadia Publishing, Images of America series which utilizes vintage photographs to convey the history of a city or area, includes a series of vintage postcard books for different cities. Use the search engine on their homepage to look for your city or area of interest.

If you are interested in learning more about old postcards or collecting them, the Postcard Collector Magazine web site, http://www.postcardcollector.com/, is the place for information on postcard shows, postcard history and where to buy postcards. Who knows, maybe at a postcard show you will find the perfect postcard to illustrate your family history!

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2007.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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